Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Melting a Cold Shoulder

Dear Crucial Skills,

One of my coworkers has refused to communicate with me in any way for more than a year, but I don’t know what I did to offend her. I spoke to the office manager and my immediate supervisor regarding the situation, but they told me I should not confront her. Now it is very difficult to go to work each day because several of my coworkers ignore me and exclude me from meetings, lunch invitations, and more. What should I do?


Dear Ignored,

Iced out. The silent treatment. The cold shoulder. Brrrrrrrrrrrr.

This is the extreme form of going to silence and is a common strategy we use in dealing with each other. Not only have most of us experienced the silent treatment, but most of us have also used this strategy to protect ourselves or manipulate others into trying to get what we want.

Many of us have experienced first-hand the awful consequences of yelling, screaming, and even physical violence. As a result, we have vowed not to allow violence to be part of our repertoire. When we encounter a crucial conversation, we eschew violence and engage in silence, believing that we are choosing a more virtuous path. Unfortunately, when we do this, we are fooling ourselves.

Silence is a hurtful strategy. At best, by avoiding a subject and making it an “undiscussable,” we assure problems will not be resolved and will likely fester or get worse. Giving someone the silent treatment can also convey a painful message: you are not worth the effort it takes to talk with you. You are worthless. This message—whether intentional or not—can be devastating and play upon a person’s deepest fears.

The situation you describe at work seems beyond petty and is certainly dysfunctional. The fact that the silent treatment you are receiving extends beyond a single coworker suggests a conspiracy and is more than working through a single relationship. In especially tough situations, our tendency can be to see ourselves as victims of the situation and of others. We also tend to assume that we have no options. Overcome this victim story by asking yourself, “What can I do right now to move toward what I really want?” The answer to this question is “the rest of the story” that you are not considering. By considering other perspectives you can escape any victim stories you may be telling yourself.

What can you do? You have at least three options:

1. If you don’t like your current situation, change it.
2. If you can’t change your situation, remove yourself from it.
3. If the cost of removing yourself from the situation is too high, decide how you can cope with it in a healthy, helpful way.

If you decide to work on changing the situation, I recommend you hold a crucial conversation with your supervisor and office manager. You initially involved them, but their solution is not working so you should return to them. Factually describe the gap between what is happening and what you would expect to happen in an efficient, effective work team. Share the consequences of your coworkers’ behavior on productivity and quality of work, on others on the team, and on yourself. Ask for your leaders’ help in changing the situation. It might require a team meeting where you have a crucial conversation with your coworkers. In this meeting, talk openly about what is happening. Identify the behaviors you see and ask your coworkers why they are behaving in this manner.

Have you said or done something that caused problems or offense? Be open. Listen. Honestly diagnose the cause. Share the consequences as you see them. Seek resolution and agreement as to how you will all interact going forward.

If you cannot get a satisfactory resolution, can you transfer to another work unit? Can you leave this job and go to a more healthy work environment? If so, begin planning your exit.

If this option is too drastic or does not provide a better situation, how can you cope with an unhealthy situation in a healthy way? Can you see this as a long-term influence effort where you will continue to seek mutual purpose and be unconditionally respectful to others, with the intent to help, not hurt? Can you see their silence as their problem and continue to do your job in a satisfying manner? Can you continue to grow in your job and career and find fulfillment even if your coworkers don’t invite you to lunch? Can you be happy and healthy in the short-term, even as you develop long-term solutions to the current situation?

Intentionally avoiding tough conversations and “freezing” others out is dysfunctional; it hurts relationships and team results. Do not accept such a situation as a “given.” You do not control others, but you do control your response to others. Choose to be an influencer. Influence for the better—both others and yourself.

All the best,

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

44 thoughts on “Melting a Cold Shoulder”

  1. Megan Gilason

    I was in a situation like this. After about one year of tension with a co-worker I decided to sit down with the person, step out of the content and touch on the process and ask what I may have done to contribute to the situation. I said “Over the past several months I have noticed our relationship has become strained and I am unsure what I may have done to contribute to that. I am hoping you would tell me what happened so I can atleast understand it and possible help to fix any damage.”
    It turned out that I did something that offended that person 10 months earlier and she decided to silence me out. I apologized, said that I had no idea. We talked about the incedent from both sides and now have a better relationship. It’s not fantastic, but it’s enough to be comfortable.
    Good luck.

  2. RG

    In reading the “cold shoulder” story, I see that the main burden is being placed on the person “left in the cold”.
    I would definately view this behaviour as a form or workplace harrassment towards a co-worker. Though not physical or verbal, it is psycological and should be dealt with accordingly.

    Just my 2 cents

    1. Patricia PW

      I completely agree with you. If I see any dysfunction happening on a team I belong too as the coach, I see it as my job to address it immediately. It’s a cancer that destroys teams and morale.

    2. Dawn

      Very well said and true.

  3. Dan Yoakam

    I have seen this same scenario happen to a coworker. He was part of a small independent work group which was allowed a lot of freedom and liberties as long as the expected results were delivered. The group had a history of resolving issues within the group which had the added benefit of keeping them off of management’s radar. When he joined the group, rather than learn to function in the group, he began to play the role of the victim. He felt his ideas weren’t received and accepted like he thought they should be. When his shift fell on a holiday, he felt that the others manipulated the schedule. If someone teased him (which was a common occurrence between everyone in the group), he was being picked on and if you didn’t tease him like you did the others, he was being excluded, etc. etc. etc. Rather than resolve his issues in the group, he took them to management, which in turn brought unwanted attention from and meddling by management in a group that up to that point had successfully managed its own affairs. This led to silence as people were afraid that whatever they would say to him would be taken wrong or reported to management out of context. He stopped taking breaks or going to lunch with the group which just served to further isolate him from those he wanted to get along with. Eventually he chose to leave the company.
    The crucial skill of starting with yourself might have saved him from leaving a job that he otherwise enjoyed. Of course, it is often most difficult to see and own our own involvement in a situation. Unfortunately, once he took his issues to management, the people in the group who could have given him the honest feedback that he needed, no longer had the safety to do so.
    I would encourage Ignored to take a long hard look at his own actions. Does he work within the group norms? Do his present actions only work to further isolate himself? Is he willing to accept that others have a different view of the world than he does?

    1. Dawn

      I feel the scenario you are describing is very rare. If the independent work group is functioning healthy, they would definitely be able to spot a toxic co-worker. Unfortunately, employees are not trained to deal with people who are either toxic or being able to recognize when someone is just having a bad time in their lives. Learning how to communicate immediately and bring it out into the open is the best way to get a handle on these situations before they get out of hand.

  4. Athena

    Personal responsibility is important, as Dan notes. Always start with what you can do about yourself.

    However, gang behavior, of which exclusion and formal shunning are common techniques, is not uncommon in work groups. Exclusion and shunning is also common when there are strong cultures that drive people to be alike – i.e., fundamental respect for diversity in thought, style, appearance, etc. is not an active behavior. If it is just regular gang behavior, then there is typically one dominant personality who unofficially is the gang leader (usually the most dominant personality). I wonder, since management told the employee not to confront, if this is happening in this group. The shunning could be driven by the gang leader’s personal motives. It’s creepy to think of, but hey, it happens all the time.

    Even if this is the case, it is the responsibility of everyone on a team to behave respectfully . Management should be involved and enable a positive work environment. If it is the employee’s actions that have caused the situation, then they need to have the crucial conversation to convey this. They are also responsible for creating an environment where issues can be discussed safely and without retribution for anyone involved.

    If I was in this situation, I would ask to go along to lunch – approach someone who is not the gang leader and just ask. Take oppportunities to interact with a variety of people in the group each day. Gradually try to join in, not making a big deal out of any particular issue, just gradually participating more. In addition to gang leaders with sometimes really bad intentions, there are always people with open hearts and minds who will be supportive. Once you’ve joined in, the opportunity for a crucial conversation will arise and you will be ready. If you like the job, don’t give up.

  5. Rhonda Mauricette

    The behavours described by “ignored” fall under the definition of bullying. The organization, through it’s leaders are responsible for ensuring its employees are not exposed to it. Check your organization’s policies, inform your managers and, if they do nothing, get a lawyer.

  6. KB

    Well, unlike some others I have and still dealing with a similar situation and have been for almost four years. However, within the last year I decided to inform my manager, as well as Human resources, none the less, nothing has happened and I have done everything that Human Resources suggested from me to do, one is to take a crucial conversation class. I think it’s a same that people in the work place behaviors are as middle school and teenage kids. Once someone has a slight ought against you, it can lead to the silence treatment, and less involvement work related issues.

    I have learned to deal with it more, and release myself through communication with others, and simply knowing that it is not all my fault, when someone does not want to see you excel, anything and everything will appear out of thin air especially if your dealing someone who has leadership, from Manager to team lead. My release now is to go home and forget, all though there has been times that I have showed frustration at work but not where anyone knows, that is the worst that you could ever do when your receiving the cold shoulder.
    However, I agree with it being a psychological factor, because like I said, It took me almost two years before I said, this is how I’m going to handle it and then not let it affect me when I got home, now I’m demanding that my manager do something about it, and if nothing happens, I agree with #5, get a lawyer.

  7. Diane

    It’s even worse when the person doing the ‘freezing’ is your boss. Mine speaks to me only when he wants something or it criticize. I am not the only person to experience this and going to his boss is not an option…he reports to the president of a large university who could care less how he behaves. The reason I stay is that I love the work I do and my colleagues….and I hold the sincere hope that he will resign and go somewhere where he is happier.

  8. Michael Vitali

    I continue to be amazed by how you guys apply the principles of your books to real-life situations. I await the newsletter with great anticipation; in it I have seen my story told time and time again. I appreciate the straightforward, easy to follow advice.

    I am reminded, each day, of the work that lies ahead of me. Yet, I look to it with enthusiasm and excitement rather than fear and dread. Thanks for being there.

  9. Shana

    I would be curious to know if a lawyer finds any legal recourse for the situation described. Having endured a similar situation for many years and continuing to do so, I have attempted many different corrective measures. At one point I consulted two lawyer friends who agreed that this type of behavior does not fall under a legally protected class of discrimination, such as gender or race.

    1. Diane

      Hi Shana,
      I consulted a labour lawyer. We had 30 minutes to chat. The bottom line is/was: “you still have a job?” “then, “no harm done”.

      However, as a federal employee, I am at the mercy of federal policy and cannot avail myself of any stronger, provincial labour laws.

  10. Steve

    As a company manager, I have a situation where a person was transferred from a dept. manager with four reports to a stand along dept. She wanted this and suggested it after I planted a couple of slightly connected ideas as food for thought. Her reports were overjoyed. I would not say they shun her outright, but she has expressed frustration of not feeling a part of that crowd anymore. She is the kind of person who wants to know everything going on anyway. Her complaints are more about lack of social interaction and not about job function.

    Do I have a responsibility to tell that dept. that she feels like an outsider now? Reader resposes welcome.

  11. Grizzly Bear Mom

    I am an HR professional who expereinced the same bullying detailed above. For example, a leader lied to an IN-subordiante, saying I tried to keep her from being promoted. Everyone was mad at me, until they realized that the statements were inconsistent with my character, and lies were consistent with theirs. I am shocked that the leaders haven’t supported Ignored and that everyone went along with the silent treatment. I would request mediation, and develop a well thought out list of things I need in the workplace, like open, honest, direct communication, respect, etc. If you don’t know a mediator, call the nearest Federal HR Employee Relations Office and ask if they can help you or refer you to someone who can. I wouldn’t get a lawyer. They cost money, and what can they do for your other than file an EEO complaint?

  12. Cathi Valentine

    I had a similar situation with a co worker, when I found out she was going to a director above my manager and lying about me. I was called in and unfortunately not given the oppurtunity to confront my accuser they took her word for it. This particular employee used the same senario before on a different employee. One would think the directors would see a pattern in her actions but they haven’t yet. When she thought she was going to get in trouble she found a way to turn the situation on someone else before she got in trouble. I also chose to not converse with her or as little as possible because I didn’t trust her. I never knew if something I said would set her off , so it was easier not to give her any fuel. If the person that wrote in (co workers are not speaking to her )or inviting her to join them ,she probably has lost their “trust.” I still believe in co workers talking to each other and work out misunderstandings there are lots of trust issues and hurt feelings once a situation has been taken to superiors. Managers in my opinion should hear the employee out but then the other employee involved should be present and the other side should be listened to with both parties present. The employee that I worked with has since transferred and word has it she is still crying wolf and it is still working for her.

  13. Grizzly Bear Mom

    Another thing you can do is develop outstanding relationship with your leaders so they don’t believe the lies. Sometimes they side with liars because it servces their political ends. Also, if you can’t acquire a free mediator, considering PAYING for them YOURSELF. You want peace and work and employment, don’t you?

  14. Julianne

    I overheard my supervisor on the phone complaining about someone – and realized it was me! I’d been completely unaware that she was upset about anything so I sent her an email, asking to meet with her to clear the air. We sat down and she immediately asked how I’d ever figured out she’d been talking about me. She was clearly angry and upset so I chose my words carefully. It turned out that she’d sent me an email requesting that I handle something, and my email response offended her. That email had occurred over two weeks earlier, so I couldn’t have been more shocked! Then she said that she’d already discussed this with our HR Rep, which I thought was really out of line as she should have approached me first. HR told her to write a summary of the situation, so she did and they said it was way too angry, so she had to tone it down. She toned it down, and they said it was still way too angry!

    If only I had taken the time to spell out my point of reference! I had two interviews for this position and at both interviews I was asked if I’d be able to take a “more relaxed” attitude towards certain responsibilities (ie, not be a bulldog regarding various policies). I said it wouldn’t be a problem and it hadn’t been. But her email specifically asked me to enforce one of those policies, so in my email response I asked whether the department administrators would stand behind me if the staff refused to comply (my enforcing this policy would halt important work that had specific deadlines). I was still new on the job but already recognized that staff were used to getting their way; new guidelines were rarely followed or enforced. She interpreted my email in a different manner than I could have ever anticipated. Part of what I overheard her saying on the phone was that I sounded more like a secretary than a professional and that she shouldn’t have to hold my hand to handle a simple responsibility like that.

    I probably didn’t handle this the appropriate way, but during our meeting I must have apologized to her about five times. I explained what I’d been thinking when I responded to her email; I repeated that I was more than willing to handle the responsibility and was just trying to be proactive as staff would undoubtedly test the new boundaries, etc. She finally said that “perhaps” her reaction had been a little too severe, but things between us have never been the same. She exploits the power that accompanies her position but it doesn’t help to go over her head as the person she reports to has had numerous and serious complaints against his behavior. I’ve been looking for a different job for quite some time but the job market is really tight. It’s created a very stressful workplace for me; I have to remind myself that even if she doesn’t value me or my work, this won’t be the last job I hold and things won’t be this way forever.

  15. Annie

    I could really use some advice. I have a co-worker who is very childish and likes to create drama. She must have a conflict with someone in the office at all times. Over the yeras she has given the silent treatment to almost everyone in our office. This is not short term, it lasted almost 2 years with one and a year with another. This is my 3rd or 4th time being on the receiving end. What did I do? Perhaps I didn’t say good morning or good night. Perhaps I had something on my mind and was down one day and she took it that I was mad at her so she shunned me. Sounds pathetic but that has been her excuse with others. It causes a tense work environment. In the past she has had no one talking to her after she got over he fit and has called us into meetings to apologize. The owners don’t see it cause she is up their you know what and acts totally different when they are around. People in the past have mentioned the issue and were told they were petty and imature. I can’t find another job, I have tried and tried and tried. Please tell me how I can handle this on a daily basis. Also, in time she will do it someone else and then another person until she is once again shunning us all. Why should we have to kiss her you know what. Some days it makes me cry having to go to work and be treated that way. Help

  16. BR

    Although I am not proud of it, I find myself giving a co-worker (she sits next to me) the silent treatment after she offended me one to many times. She is a know-it-all and has to win the conversation. The first time I thought it was a fluke, then I thought it was just my perception until I asked two other co-workers. They all confirmed that yes she was a know-it-all.

    In addition, she has literally taken my work from we without asking me first. At first glance, it appears that she is just trying to help, but I realize she again is trying to one up me.

    After two years, I was so unhappy with the situation and concerned about my job performance, that I am in counseling. I am learning that you can’t really help someone with these kind of insecurities. This is an issue that they have to seek help with.

    As for now, I say good morning / good night and keep conversations with her to a minimum. I would like to have a better working relationship, but not at the expense of having her turn a simple conversation into a opportunity to lecture me. It is very stressful to constantly be on guard with someone when you engage them in a simple conversation.

    I believe our supervisor recognizes her insecurities and does an excellent job of working with her. The supervisor works well with everyone and has excellent people skills. Despite all his encouragement, after over two years she still has not relaxed enough to admit when she does not know something. If he can’t get through to her, how can I?

    It’s a real shame because she is smart, friendly and hard working. We are both single and have a lot of common interests (dogs, gardening, etc.) I hope that with continued counseling, I can at least eliminate the anxiety I feel when she “knows-it-all”. I don’t want to debate with her and don’t want to “give in” either. So for now I avoid her.

    Good luck all!

  17. Juanita Ecker

    The co-workers that are are giving this indivual the silent treatment are not very respectful to others. It shows a lack of civility in the workplace. It a common complaint that I hear from participants in my business etiquette seminars. I liked your suggestions to communicate with the supervisors and ask for their assistance in how to best resolve the issue. I also liked how you encouraged this individual to change how he/she responds to the situation since you can’t control the behavior of others.

  18. L D Feres

    Please be aware that the situation described is considered a “Hostile Work Environment” by Law. Since she has already discussed this with the superiors and nothing has been done by them to mitigate the situation, she should follow the corp. reporting process for this type of issue. If it not investigated and mitigated, then she has an EEOC lawsuit.

  19. Brian Taylor

    As a Crucial Conversations facilitator I’m a great believer, teacher and practitioner of those great skills that can help in so many situations. In large part, though, the skills are effective with people who are “reasonable” human beings. Unfortunately there are individuals who are “toxic”. These people are not reasonable and we need to adopt “unreasonable” approaches to deal with them.
    (The CC authors have some good examples of this). Toxic people are very clever, often they get good results, and their behaviour is frequently kept out of sight of those that could do something about it. In my consulting work I’ve seen examples firsthand and wondered at how it’s tolerated. There are some good books on this specific subject that can be very helpful. One that I’ve just been reading is “Toxic Workplace” (Kusy & Holloway) which I’ve found very good. There are plenty of others, too, that can provide some useful insights and strategies if we’re unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of this debilitating behaviour.

  20. Bruce Wilkinson

    My first impression was that the co-worker giving the silent treatment is totally at fault. However, when the person giving the silent treatment is not alone in that behavior, it begs the question of why others would join in. It could just be that they are part of a clique who all share the same exclusive views. However, it also could be that “ignored” might exhibit some habitual behavior patterns that co-workers might simply find off-putting and don’t want to be around. If there is nobody in the workplace who is a trusted friend to seek input from, that not only strengthens the probability that the avoidance is for a behavior related reason but also indicates that the best approach may be a direct question to the manager with appropriate crucial conversation dialog to make the manager feel safe giving uncomfortable feedback. If there is a behavior pattern that the co-workers don’t like, the manager is most likely aware of it. It is possible that it is annoying to the manager as well but, if the work product is good, then the manager is satisfied with the status quo. That would also explain why the manager might encourage the employee not to confront the co-worker–feeling that it can only make things worse if the co-worker decides to address the issue in a confrontational way. Better to let sleeping dogs lie. If the manager feels safe enough, Ignored could get to the root of the problem. Then ignored may have to decide how to deal with changing the pattern of annoying behavior (see the example by BR above).

  21. J

    @BR and all others tempted to act similarly-

    Please say something, and its especially helpful in the moment! 🙂

    I have been in your co-worker’s place when I interned for 6 months, and would have gladly stopped your misery if I had known.

    One month in I was told by a trusted co-worker that I had too cocky an attitude. Upon self examination I realized I did and made a huge effort to change my behavior.

    However, 2 weeks from the end, I was told by the same co-worker that there was an individual who said I had been insulting them every single day I had been there. It was shocking to hear that I had been unknowingly tormenting this individual for 5.5 months, and it was incredibly frustrating because no one could even point out any specific examples. It was something about my tone, that would only make sense in the moment.

    I am sorry to hear about your suffering, and I don’t know if your coworker is incorrigible. However, if I had been in her spot, I would have loved for you to say something to cut down your counseling bills, and help me grow


  22. Jane

    I worked in an office for 7 years and was ‘shunned for 2 years’. I don’t know why either. I imagine it is something really petty and trivial.

    I was made redundant and none of them said anything to me. I regard the silent treatment as a form of passive aggressiveness, and I think it is way of silent manipulation to put me down in every way. I suppose it is like working in a concentration camp, with all the childish tactics. It helped if I didn’t look like it phased me. They really wanted to make me miserable.

    I did make an effort to talk, although it was always onesided. They would only talk when they had to.

    In the end, it became a virus, so much so that the majority of the group, normally English workers, gave me the silent treatment. i think the trick is to nip it early.

    I am a natural office outsider as I don’t drink, smoke and I am a bit shy, so I avoid parties. I don’t have much in common with them mentally too, although I do have a sense of humour, but it is more dry. I know, I haven’t a chance of working in an office but I have to!

    I used to be spoken to via my manager, that was odd. Other staff virtually never had any conversation unless it went via the manager. Despite everything, I survived 7 years there, I needed a medal! I ended up ‘giving up and switch off’ just to get through the day, to a my more normal life outside work.

    When I came to my leaving do, I had enough! In order to be friendly I invited all staff, however, I was cunning, I invited the toxic staff on one day and the nice staff on another. I chose drinks (because they love drink), that all drinks paid for, and chose their favourite pub. On the day of the toxic staff leaving party, I would not turn up.

    Now the interesting thing is that they probably won’t turn up anyway, but the fact that I invited them looks good on me. Actually you would think they would want to see me off.

    1. JPMcFluffies

      Ha!! That is great. I need to do the same thing!! Kudos!

  23. Jane

    What a great response. However, in some cases, you cannot please everyone. I think my colleagues would want me to be a drinker and smoker, and well, to be just like them and I don’t really want to change that at all. I think sometimes we have to accept that some people are different, and never the twain shall meet, unless at work. It is like having customers who you just can’t please. That really helps me. I don’t think any kind of pandering to my colleagues would help, in some ways, they will think they have won the battle. Some things you can do things about, but some things you can’t because you have high standards.

  24. Jane

    I will read about the Hostile Working Environment, but I am in the UK and it probably doesn’t apply!

  25. des

    I agree with the comment that putting on a cold shoulder is one way of harrassing a coworker, same as bullying. All of us have had some misunderstanding or different opinion or gave a violent reaction over something. But leaving one coworker in the cold simply means that we dont care about his or her being, we become selfish that we only think about ourselves, surely we were offended one time or another, but it is very unprofessional and unhealthy to just leave the out.

    I am in this situation right now. What happened was, I am a quiet person and I really dont talk alot unless I am asked or has something to do with work. My co workers knew me like this, everything was fine until I got married. They started a gossip that it was a shotgun wedding and that I am pregnant. So untrue, so unfair to me. But I let it go. I kept quiet. after 5months I got pregnant, I informed my HR about my condition and my superiors and a few trusted co workers. After 4months the news was out that I am pregnant, here came the jokes and stories they make up. One of my coworkers constantly tease me about everything. I understand him its his nature. Then one time, it got the better of me, he teased me that I should name my son like this or somethin like that. I told him to back off and if wants to name a child, he should make his own child first. After that he never talked to me. A few weeks he had another coworker with him and the cold shoulder started, now it seems all of them are giving me cold shoulder, except for the other nationalities we worked with because they dont understand what really is happening.

    I am not doing anything about it, my reason is, if I make it a big deal and get in my way, its non sense, I function well with my work with my superior and manager, and if they do care about another human being they will never leave them out.

    1. Victoria

      Good for you in our work situation the one giving the cold shoulder is very close to the bosses even showers them with gifts and they have their own click group the bosses are insensitive not thinking what others may feel with all these favoritism going around

  26. David

    ood article:
    I’m in the same boat had a huge fight with a friend now she’s giving me the cold shoulder. But I’ve know her for 14 years so I know what she wants.
    That is to come back like some abject puppy begging forgiveness for all perceived wrongs imagined and when that’s done all will be OK.
    She’s the type of person who wants everything her own way and if that doesn’t happen you simply don’t exist. She very much takes in a relationship more than she gives.
    This time though I simply refused to apologize for the perceived wrongs she saw, Certainly apologized for harsh words said, but told her, no more.
    Whats more if you want to ruin a 14 year friendship and find someone else they’ll listen to your crap and take your do it my way attitude feel free.
    Cold shoulder is, in my opinion, very much a form of control.
    You cannot allow someone to treat you that way, it may hurt and absence noted in personal relationships but it’s better being a man that acting like some puppy.

  27. Bobbie

    I am currently experiencing this similar issue at the moment. Another great article by Ron, it provide a good read and gave me some guidance, and at the very least the comment section makes me feel a little solidarity that i am not the only person in this world experiencing this.

    I could go on about what happen but i conclude that while I cannot change how other treated me, i can change the way i response to how other treat me. Instead of feeling hurt, I should try to not response and not let it affect me.

    No one but the bully can change their hurtful behavior, we also know that a bully is never willing to change otherwise they are not bullies.

    The business appear to be supportive of me and recommend me counseling as well as courses to deal with this person’s behavior so it doesn’t affect me(ie. change the way i need to response as i can’t change his/her behavior toward me.) But i am hurt that the business seems to be accepting the behavior in the first place, surely this is not the definition of appropriate professionalism.

    Anyway to accept and change the way i response to hurtful things are easier said than done, even today it was very hard to keep on going.The only thing i look forward to in the morning when its time to go to work is that i love what i do at work. But there were times even this is hard and challenging to overlook. It’s a long way to go.

    But i do believe in the step 123:
    Change, walk away or don’t change and cope.
    Don’t change and cope doesn’t work.
    Walk away is hard because i love what i do.

    The only option for me right now is to change the way i should response, hopefully this will work out.

    1. Victoria

      Maybe i will try this too until i found a new job just that i really love what I’m doing so frustrating to deal with these annoying coworkers

  28. Gaye Schwall

    I have been going through the same thing for the last thirteen years…I did not know how to handle it. This has made me see things in a new way.

    Thanks you.

  29. Chimney

    I think it’s a case to case basis. I am the kind of person who give chances if someone offended me at work, and I am a cold shoulder type too in that way I avoid argument. I am not happy about it but that’s the least I can do. I’m trying not to treat them silently but they leave me no choice. They always complain about their work, gossip about other peoples lives even though they have no business with them, likes to badmouth someone’s works while they can’t even do their job well. I already told them that if you don’t like your job then find another job that suits them. I hate being a cold shoulder type but I’d rather shut my mouth and ignore them than having a discussion with them. They are the type of know it all creature. I’m done with them. Whether I let them feel that I am concern in a good way and not talking to them, I am still wrong. So, I decided to stop helping them and chose the latter because I am still the bad person in the end.

    Thanks for this article anyway. It cools me down. And helps me to think fairly and gave me options how to deal with my colleague.

    1. Victoria

      You’re right case to case basis I tried the strategy of talking to an obnoxious coworker as calmly as i could be but it didn’t work and it depends with what kind of character a person may have cold shoulder and not talking or less talk would be the best option before quitting the job

  30. Anthony

    Reading this article brought back a recent experience. I suffered the cold shoulder treatment within the team I was working for almost 12 months before it stopped.

    At my annual review I drew attention to some examples of great customer feedback which I had received and also to praise that I had received from key personnel at the chief office on projects I had been involved with.

    When the boss asked about feedback from within our team I simply said that I had received none and was wondering whether I should do anything about it. The boss was curious and said that I should approach certain individuals ask for feedback, write it down and then report back to him. For me, this was the turning point.

    I found that gaining control of the solution was important as it helped me to be more sympathetic to those freezing me out. It also helped me cope with the pain of exclusion. This avoided any finger pointing and made it easier for me to have good working relationships with people when the thaw began. However, I never drew anyone’s attention to the pain I was suffering.

    For me, perseverance paid off. I no longer get frozen out and I feel that I am working for a great company. Had I just quit I would have probably taken the bitterness of the experience with me so sticking around and finding out a solution worked out very well indeed.

    This is my experience and I share it in case it is of help to someone else facing the same predicament.

    Great website. Great advice.

  31. Bob

    I’m now having to deal with this situation at my work. For the most part, everyone else is ok with me, other than 2 of these coworkers, of which 1 of them I have to work directly with.

    So far, the silence has been observed by myself for better than 2 months now. When approached, the coworker denies any such action or problems with me. Why would he admit it anyway. That would be self incrimination.

    My response to this is to stay composed. It doesn’t really hurt me, it’s just annoying, as I know the petty intent behind the silent action. It also appears that the fellow coworker tries to ‘up the ante’ by stealthily moving things in my area, or setting ‘booby-traps’ to see if I’ll react. All these efforts are difficult to trace and quite elusive, but have a pattern and signature to them.

    Having discovered this has led me to some counter measures which I find most entertaining. Most of the time, it involves a ‘game face’ strategy, which has caused some backfires to the perpetrator.

    One strategy I’ve used is by phone conversations within ear-shot of the perpetrator. A staged (or even fake) phone conversation and one-sided dialog with details of the shenanigans of the ‘unidentified’ person let’s the perpetrator know that you know.

    This situational inference works wonders. Yes, there’s still a frigid atmosphere – which is irreversible – but it’s made an even playing field for me – problem solved.

    Note that people with these kind of cold shoulder tactics are crappy people. Nothing that a good butt-kicking wouldn’t take care of, but that’s simply impractical. The aforementioned strategy was the next best thing for me.

    If this is happening to you, be calculated and cautious. If these kind of folks have nothing to do with keeping your job, screw ’em ;-D

    1. JPMcFluffies

      Thank you, this was great!!

  32. Victoria

    I’m experiencing this right now, just started working in a company 4mos ago and learnt from a couple coworkers that there’s a click group and favoritism going around. One of the click group is giving me a cold shoulder he talks and chats to everyone but me, was ok him doing that to me but 2 of my coworkers observed he treats me differently and he’s being rude to me i thought twas just me and i let it go don’t want to assume anything but when coworkers told me bout their observations pretty clear he hates me he doesn’t talk to me unless work related but no eye contact and his tone is harsh i tried talking to him to check if we have a problem he denied i thought we were ok but his behaviour still rude i decided to talk to him again due to a situation he talked to me as if he’s the boss he got irritated and telling me i made him uncomfortable and he doesn’t appreciate me coming to him asking if what’s the problem I’d like to escalate this to our bosses but both closed to him because he gives them gifts and they are among the click group outcasting the rest of us am kinda like my work but this is a predicament for me and i also learnt he was the cause of somebodys being fired before.. he comes to work late takes lunch over the required time and chatting more than doing his job. Am not homophobic but he his gay I’ve gay friends they are all awesome and i love them but not this one not sure what to hard to look for a job nowadays

  33. Kelly Roman Krause

    Wow! Well, if I was looking for company I’ve found it! There are a lot of us out here experiencing this type of non-verbal bullying. I too am experiencing it at my workplace. I’m a teacher, and we had a large number of people who retired last year including a colleague of mine who I got along well with. Another colleague who had been there for about 3 years before she retired worked with us and was giving me the cold shoulder. I think it may have been because I took a position in our building that he coveted – that was with another team of teachers. I moved up to another grade level for a year (with that team), and then back down to the one I had been at before where he was also teaching. That’s when I started getting the cold shoulder, and even some direct confrontation. I wasn’t as affected by it last year, but after my colleague retired, two new people came in, one a woman who really “connected” with him. I could tell he was looking for a way to box me out with both of them, but he only succeeded with her. The other guy, a younger fellow, was very kind and respectful to me (I’m 56 to his 28) and still is. Unfortunately he’s too new (and maybe too young) to see what’s happening. I have tried talking to the (cold-shouldering) male colleague and also have written him a letter – all very complimentary. I’m not an aggressive or assertive person – more of an introvert. At first it seemed as if it helped, but then things just rolled back to where they were to begin with. Now the new woman is doing it too – obviously really looking to impress him. When we team together, she focuses on him, and my younger nicer, colleague. Neither of the cold-shoulder team look at me when they are talking to each other – or if they do, it’s for a second or two. He doesn’t smile when he talks to me, and only discusses work related topics. She has been hot and cold, mostly cold. I did try to approach her about it, against my better judgement, and the expected occured. She denied any discomfort with me. Later I’m pretty sure I caught the tail end of a conversation about me (with him), and confronted her on that as well. She said the conversation wasn’t about me, but for the next two days, she was almost nice. I am currently trying to move to a different grade level because a new job is just too hard at my age and life stage. I totally understand what a stressful thing something like this is now! I would NEVER tell my supervisors. After 30 years of teaching, I know that they would just wonder if it was ME that was the problem. It’s not worth it. I meet with a counselor for 4 weeks to try to figure out how to deal with this, and am trying everything to reduce anxiety, but I have never experienced anything like this in all of the years I’ve spent teaching. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had people who have been cool towards me, but either I didn’t have to work directly with them, or it blew over and wasn’t a problem. THIS has been totally different.

  34. Desislava Rusekova

    I looked at so many cases, so I can’t keep in sicret my own one. Recently, I have not been invited to attend a meeting, instead me the company select someone else with less experience in the business we do. I really want to leave my job since then…However I did not want to attend the meeting but it is too rude even to do not ask.

  35. Thuli

    I have being going through this for eleven years . I told myself that I only came here to work not for friendship. I didn’t want to waste my energy for people who does not care about me there many people who cares about me.

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